As a patient who's had several surgeries and many visits to emergency rooms, Terry Day said he's no fan of hospitals. But you might call him a flaming advocate for health care. Especially after he suffered third-degree burns on Father's Day of 2013.
“I threw myself on the ground, and that didn't work,” he said of attempts to snuff the fire that was consuming his pants. “Fortunately, my son from Seattle was here, and he grabbed the pants by the ankles and yanked them off me.”
Day is a retired Washington State University communications faculty member. At 76, he's always championed Pullman Regional Hospital as necessary to the community and outstanding compared to many hospitals elsewhere.
Even before the new hospital was built ten years ago, Day was promoting improvements. He recalled being a patient for gall bladder and hernia surgery at the old hospital on the WSU campus. His room became so hot that the doctor had to use a pen knife to cut open a window that had been sealed shut by paint.
“So I know the contrast between the old hospital and the new one.”
That's why when construction of the new hospital was proposed, Terry immediately volunteered his communications expertise.
“I was on the publicity committee for the bond issue for building the new hospital and was really pleased to support it,” he said. Using his own utility trailer and a sheet of plywood, he made a sign promoting passage of the bond. “And I drove it around and parked it in various places where I got permission.”
Once, Terry quipped, he even ran unopposed for the hospital board of directors and lost. “I got beat by a write-in candidate.”
Undaunted, he's remained a staunch supporter of Pullman Regional Hospital. “I think for a community this size, we really have an exceptional hospital. That includes the facility. It includes the staff, the nurses, the doctors and the surgeons.”
Terry has had a total of six surgeries in both the old and new Pullman hospitals and one prior emergency room visit after a bicycle accident. He also has had two major surgeries in Seattle and Spokane hospitals. His Father's Day run to the emergency department, he said, was the result of a fluke accident.
“I presume that you have cut many a rope and singed the end so it won't fray,” he said, explaining that he had gone outside to erect a tarp to provide shade for a family barbecue. He cut a piece of nylon rope to help suspend the tarp and was searing the end of the rope when a tiny piece of molten nylon dropped onto his pants.
“I was wearing extremely flimsy cotton lounging pants, and they might as well have been soaked in gasoline,” Terry said. “They just went poof.” Attempts to pat the flames out and then rolling on the ground failed. Only when his son, Sam, yanked the trousers off could Terry escape the flames. The fire consumed the left leg of the pants from knee to crotch.
“It didn't get any vital equipment,” Terry confirmed with a comical smile and sigh of relief. “If I'd had been in my swimming suit and it dropped on my thigh, I would have had a little burn.”
Instead, the lower third of the inside of his left thigh was burned.
“I'd never seen a third-degree burn before, but I knew that's what I had. Like I say, it just went whoosh.”
Terry said he hustled inside, got in the bathtub and used a shower wand to apply cold water to the wound. Then he drove himself to a familiar place – the emergency department at Pullman Regional.
“I was holding an ice pack on it while I drove over. And they called Harborview (Medical Center in Seattle) and talked to a burn specialist there. The question was should they stuff me in an airplane and fly me over there?”
Doctors opted to treat the burns (first, second and third-degree) here and, after two visits to Harborview, Terry’s wound healed without a skin graft. It took 104 days for the wound to close. During that time his wife, Ruth, daily cleaned the open wound, applied medications and rebandaged it.
“I'm far more familiar with hospitals than I'd like to be, as a patient,” he said.
Terry and Ruth, a retired WSU psychology department secretary, came to Pullman on Halloween Day in 1972. “That was our Halloween trick on Pullman,” Terry said, “and we renew it every year by staying.” They are the parents of six children and grandparents of 19 grandchildren.
Prior to his arrival in Pullman, Terry worked 11 years on daily newspapers in Wyoming, Utah and Washington. He said he was initially hired with no experience or formal training.
“I sometimes say I stumbled and fell into journalism and never got out.”
Eventually, Terry specialized in agriculture reporting and was hired by WSU, where he spent 32 years as an administrative faculty member, science writer and media relations specialist. He still works as a freelance writer, editor and photographer.
“It was a great ride.”
Upon retirement, Terry recalled, he and Ruth seriously considered leaving Pullman, perhaps to live in Kennewick, Wash., where he was born. But Ruth, loving Pullman, resisted and Terry agreed to stay – for at least one other big reason.
“It's really pretty high up on the list,” Terry said, “and that is the improvements in the medical community, the services that are available.” The new hospital speaks for itself, he said. “And another thing is the growing and expanding development of communications technology in the medical fields.”
Such communication, he said, was illustrated in his own situation by how doctors here have been able to communicate with doctors at Harborview's burn center. Then during treatment he was able to send pictures each week to Harborview so doctors there could monitor the wound’s healing and recommend changes in care. Terry and Ruth are very grateful that he avoided a skin graft, even though it has left him with an ugly scar. “It’s a reminder not to play with matches,” he quipped.
The injury, Terry said, has left him thankful for the hospital and its staff and he's all the more determined to help promote improvement.
“One of the really big changes that we've noticed is specialists coming here. I think some of it is the new hospital and I think partly because of the excellent leadership that Scott Adams (hospital CEO) provides, we have really attracted a lot of good specialists.”
Terry also mentioned the hospital's focus on generosity to help financially fuel its future through philanthropy and volunteerism. When Ruth was hospitalized for knee surgery after the new hospital was built, she wanted to go outside to sit in the sun, but realized there was nowhere to sit. So she and Terry donated a bench.
Megan Guido, director of Marketing at the hospital, said the Days' gift is an example of growing generosity and support from the community. “Terry is a generous individual as evidenced through his thoughtful donation of the bench in the healing garden at the hospital,” she said.
Meanwhile, Terry jested that he's hoping to stay out of the emergency room. “Ruth is doing her part. She’s hidden the matches.”